May 15, 2006

Why multicultural societies are less creative

Conventional wisdom holds that the more ethnically diverse a society is, the more "vibrant" its cultural creativity.

This sounds plausible in theory, but down through history, the opposite is more likely to be true. Periclean Athens wasn't as cosmopolitan as Alexandria or Rome, and Fourteenth Century Florence was full of Italians but not much else, and so forth. Right now, America is more diverse than ever, but it sure doesn't seem as creative as it was for most of the 20th Century.

So, what's wrong with the standard theory that cultural diversity increases creativity by making it easier to borrow good ideas from other cultures?

Well, perhaps cultural diversity makes it too easy to borrow. Why go through the hard word of creating when you can just borrow? Necessity is the mother of invention, and diversity reduces the necessity of inventing your own amusements.

Consider racially homogenous Liverpool, England in the early 1960s. Some Liverpudlian youth loved this new-fangled rock 'n' roll music invented in the Mississippi River Valley in the 1950s. If there had been an African-American community in Liverpool, the white kids would have employed the black Americans to play music for them to dance to. But there weren't any African-Americans in Liverpool, so the white kids had to make their own.

Consider everybody's favorite slam-dunk case for diversity: cuisine. And, yet, what's never mentioned is that all those wonderful foreign cuisines themselves evolved in conditions of relative cultural homogeneity and isolation. The problem is that if you have a lousy cuisine, you can do one of two things: improve it or borrow somebody else's. The more easily you can borrow, the less incentive you have to fix.

Or, how about excellence in basketball? For the second straight years, Steve Nash, a white Canadian, just won the NBA Most Valuable Player award, while Dirk Nowitzki, a white German, once again finished third in the voting. Yet, no white American has even finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting since John Stockton way back in 1995. Shouldn't playing against African-Americans make white basketball players better? Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. Apparently, it's more conducive for the development of talent for young white basketball players to grow up in white countries where they don't have to compete with so many black players when they are starting out.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

No comments: